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Unique Wineries in Napa

My husband and I are visiting Napa in June and are looking for some recommendations on smaller/more unique wineries to visit. We've been before and done the commercial types like Mondavi and Beringer as well as a few smaller ones (Miner Family and Von Strasser) to name a few.

We are not interested in tours. We are mostly looking for quality cabs but are also interested in sauvingon blancs that are unique to the area and that you are not able to buy throughout the U.S. Why pay to ship it when I can buy it at home?

Does anyone know of wineries who produce/sell Howell Mountain Cabs?

Any recommendations would be greatly appreciated.

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  1. The website for the SF Chronicle has a very good database of winery info. Go to:


    In the "Wine Country Guide" search for All Napa County as a location and Howell as a Keyword. That should produce a short list of wineries worth a look

    1. We really like to visit the smaller wineries. Typically, we make a reservation or two, then ask "who else" should we visit ... and can usually give you the number to call for a reservation, or sometimes will even call ahead for you. Don't be put off by need for reservations, most of smaller wineries require reservations because of the type of liquor license they have. You can usually call and make a reservation for 10 minutes later.

      Our latest favorite -- Salvestrin Winery (in St Helena) -- small, and have a great Sauvingon Blanc as well as some Italian varietals. Nearby is Chase Family Cellars, they have some nice cab's.

      1. I'm a big fan of Kelham. . .they have really nice Cabs and Sauv Blancs. You need to make a reservation though, but it's not a big deal.


        1. #1 Milat on Hwy 29 @ Oakville cross. Great Cabs, Zins and Merlots. No one else will have heard of them.
          #2 Joseph Phelps off of the Silvarado Trail. Call ahead for a tasting.
          #3 Cain Vineyards. Call ahead for a tasting.
          #4 Caymus. Call ahead for a tasting
          #5 Groth (on the Oakville cross). Call ahead for a tasting.
          #6 Pine Ridge (at Oakville cross & Silverado Trail). No call necessary, but worth the visit.
          #7 Diamond Creek (up near Calistoga). You cannot get in, BUT, if your visit is in July, they have an "open house" for several weekends. Call to see if any coincide with your visit.


          3 Replies
          1. re: Bill Hunt

            Thanks for all your recommendations. Bill Hunt, I actually had Pine Ridge on my list so I'll make a point to visit there. A couple others I had on my list were Goosecross Cellars and Judd's Hill - anyone have any thoughts on these?

            1. re: MyrnEats

              Goosecross makes a wonderful Chardonnay.

              Most of the threads about Napa wineries are on the San Francisco Bay Area board if you'd like to re-post your thread there or do a search. Good luck.

              1. re: MyrnEats

                I have head a lot of good recs. for Goosecross, but have not been. Same for Judd's Hill.

                It's been too long, since I made my run up Hwy. 29 and then down Silvarado Trail, so there are new wineries, and some that I have just missed. Given that I am in PHX, it's difficult to hit 'em all, especially as I always include Joseph Phelps, and they seem to require that I spend the rest of the day sampling each tasting, which is usually different.

                I hear that WE will be in Sacramento in Jan., so I will do my best to hit more than MY "usual suspects." Still, I love to frequent the smaller, out-of-the-way producers, but have a few favs., that I must visit, especially "off-season."

                Most of all: do not try for too much. I find that 4/day is the max., and I am a "trained professional... " One cannot hit ALL of the wineries, unless they have a month to commit.

                Little tips: if you hit one, that seems great, when the busses are in the parking lot, walk around for a bit and enjoy the scenery. When the busses leave, enter, and TALK to the personnel. They usually love what they are doing, and love, and know, the wines, and any serious visitor usually gets special treatment. I have never had to pay for any tasting in Napa, even when my AMEX card was on the counter. It is about the love of the grape. I have also never had the listed pourings. There are always library bottles, or special bottles, that seem to come out. Interested, and interesting, conversation always bring these out. Regardless of the general impression of Napa, the folk love their wines, and do wish to share with anyone, who knows, or wishes to know, about them. Be open, and most of all, enjoy. Say "thank you," and do not be in a hurry. All of the folk in the busses are in a hurry, and it shows. It is not a competition, but a learning experience. Did you PhD come in an afternoon? Nah, it took some time. Be prepared to spend some time and it will then become "quality time."

                Let us know about your favs. and any "busts," that you encounter.


            2. Howell Mtn Cab by Ladera is excellent. I also like the very limited syrah they produce. Lovely place, small winery at or near the top of Howell Mtn.

              1. ok..i will let the cat out of the bag....here are some of the unique/small wineries that i love to go.
                you would need to make apt for most of them and most likely you will be tasing with the owner or winemaker...and most of the time it will be just you and them. most of these tasting are very personal and free. many time you will get barrel taste and will spend more than hours just talking about stuff other then wine. also many of these places will not have any wine to sell either.

                vincent arroy in calistog
                neal family (howell mt)
                outpost (howell mt)
                karl lawrence
                pride mt (spring mt)
                sherwin family (spring mt)
                if you have never been to del dotto...you might consider. tasting fee has gone up but you will get tons of barrel tasting in their cave and tasting from bottles! last time we went..we had over 30 tasting!

                1. One of my favorite wineries anywhere is Chimney Rock, 5350 Silverado Trail. I love it's unique architecture, but most of all the wines.... my favorite Napa Meritage is their Élévage. Their Cabs are great, too, and the Fumé Blanc. It's across the road from Stag's Leap, and seems to get lost in the visitor shuffle....

                  Tasting Room is open daily from 10 to 5, but if you want a tour, you should call ahead.

                  1. I thought the folks at Goosecross were quite welcoming, but neither the wine nor the winery impressed. On the other hand, Judd's Hill was a lovely place for a private tasting. We met the winemaker (Judd!) and tasted some really wonderful wine. I'd rate our Judd's Hill experience one of the very best of our last trip. We also enjoyed the photo gallery at Mumm (although a large house, a very, very nice tasting) and would rate Robert Sinskey as one of the best experiences you can have in Napa. Also, don' t miss Frog's Leap.

                    1 Reply
                    1. re: rruben1

                      Amen to both Sinskey and Frog's Leap. We've been stopping by there since their tasting room was a 8x14 trailer. The place has gone a lot more upscale in presentation, but the people are still friendly and knowlegeable, and the wine is still delightful.

                    2. Pina has the best napa cabs i've tasted, and their Howell Mountain Cab is mind blowing. The winery is little more than a garage, but it is definitely worth a visit.

                      It is near the intersection of Oakville Cross Rd. & Silverado trail, right up the road from Miner.

                      1 Reply
                      1. re: amblerdude

                        we enjoyed the wine and the visit with the makers at Neal family & Tresspass vineyards. both required a phone call ahead to reserve a time.

                      2. Could I just point out the obvious, that EVERY winery in Napa Valley is different from every other winery in the Napa Valley, and is thus unique . . .

                        3 Replies
                        1. re: zin1953

                          Well stated. Too often, and I fall into this trap, folk are looking for something that their friends have never heard of, and this usually means someplace with no tour busses. However, some of the "programs" offered at the more tourist-oriented wineries, like Beringer, Mondavi, et al, are well worth the effort. Some, like Joseph Phelps, look the same on the tasting description sheet, but are not even close. I've spent an entire day at Phelps, and done four "tastings," that were titled the same. Each was conducted by a different person, with a totally different focus.

                          Still, nothing beats stopping into a smaller producer on a cold, wet February day, when the only living object seems to be the winery dog. At last, a tasting room employee hears me shuffling around and greets me. Suddenly, there are several "library" selections, that appear out of nowhere and the fun begins. To me, those are the moments that build into memories.

                          Of the bigger, more commercial (not sure that this the correct term, as almost all wineries ARE commercial to some extent) winery experiences, that I have had AND remembered fondly, was at the, then new, Kendall-Jackson facility in Windsor (Sonoma). We stopped in very early, and spent the entire day there, with their "Sensory Garden," "Demo Vineyard," "Demo Kitchen" and some very entertaining and attentive staff. Tour busses came, and tour busses went, but we stayed and the staff always found time to get us into something not on the "list." I do not believe that we had even one wine with the Kendall-Jackson label on it that day. When we were done, I had 3-4 mixed cases of some of their "other" producer's wines in the Landcruiser. It does not get much more commercial that Kendall-Jackson, but that day was stellar and will always be remembered.

                          Yes, each winery is unique and there is no "more" unique in the lexicon. Each should be taken for what it is, and one should find a way to make the best, and the most, of each. If the tour busses are out front, just linger a bit. The busses do not stay long. If you are in the middle of the tourist season, maybe go very early, or stop by just before the doors close. Be patient and plan on spending some time with the staff in Q & A sessions. Most will reward your interest and some will reward you handsomly. Most love what they do and what they produce and are open to others, who appreciate their objects of love.


                          1. re: Bill Hunt

                            My husband and I were in Napa and Sonoma in October for our honeymoon...two of our favorites in the Napa area were Elizabeth Spencer in Rutherford and Swanson Vineyards in Oakville (reservations are required at Swanson - we did the Jean LaFitte tasting). Both are small and extremely friendly...

                            1. re: shmoops6

                              Luna which is on Monticello Rd. (the road just east of Silverado Trail) has a good pinot grigio, merlot, sangio and cab.

                              Even though it is not in Napa, I can't say enough about Joseph Swan. His Pinot Noirs and Zins are IMHO the most age worthy in California

                        2. Mayacamas.

                          These people are still one of the very best, and still making wine in an old-fashioned way, i.e., their Cabernet Savignon is not ready to drink typically for at least a decade. And yeah, you can't buy this at home in most places, unless you're lucky.